The intentions are noble: You want to buy a house with a backyard for your kids, pay off debt, or do something to actually justify the $50,000 worth of student loans that feels like a noose around your neck.
You vow to work harder than everyone else on your team, to be the first one in and the last one to leave. Every new opportunity is a chance to showcase your talents, your leadership skills, your ability to thrive under pressure. You say “yes.” To everything. In fact, you’ve forgotten how to say “no.”
But you can’t do enough, be enough, earn enough, fast enough, and even as you devise a way to keep your head above water (barely), the things that matter most—your relationships with family and friends; your physical, mental, and spiritual health—spiral helplessly out of control.
The “whys” don’t matter anymore—you work too much to enjoy the new house, or the extra cash in your pocket now that you’re debt-free. All you can see is a list of to-dos that’s long and growing. Eventually, you hit a wall. You. Are. Burned. Out.
This pattern happens to the best of us. In fact, research from The American Institute of Stress shows that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage it—meaning they’re likely moments away from slamming into their very own wall if they haven’t already.
But an all-too-common case of burnout doesn’t have to be the end of your career, nor does it have to be the death of your desire to succeed. In fact, hitting rock bottom can provide the clarity that so many leaders lack after months or years of day-to-day drudgery. This clarity can propel you toward your life’s purpose and enable you to do work that is both fulfilling and sustainable. Just ask the following three leaders:
From over-caffeinated and broken to inspired and whole
Charlie Hugh-Jones is a perfect example of goals gone wrong. He hit the mark of becoming a partner at one of London’s top law firms within ten years of graduation, but that achievement came at the expense of his health and most valuable relationships. He was even known as “Mr. 11 by 11,” thanks to his propensity to down 11 shots of coffee by 11 am.
It all came crashing down when Hugh-Jones lost control in a meeting (what he refers to as his Jerry Maguire moment) And instead of pushing through, he decided to make some tough decisions and realign his life for good.
“The initial step was for me to redefine productivity from ‘getting more done’ to ‘getting more of what matters most done,’” Hugh-Jones says. “This shifted my focus and enabled me to become more intentional about what I gave my attention to, but first I had to define and determine what mattered most to me.”
Hugh-Jones, now living in Florida and working as a writer, speaker, and coach and helping others struggling to live their best lives, also developed a renewed focus on his personal health. He reduced his caffeine dependence, cut gluten and dairy from his diet, began to work out regularly, and established a nighttime routine to improve the quality of his sleep.
“All these steps enable me to function far more effectively, to be more present, to communicate better, and to listen far more powerfully,” Hugh-Jones says. “This, in turn, has increased my capacity to do more of what matters most—including helping others make a similar journey.”
Making work really work
Financially, entrepreneur and business leader Troy Hazard was having his best year. Sales were up 40 percent, with profits up 36 percent. He was doing so well, in fact, that he started to splurge a little on personal interests and hobbies instead of putting it all of the profit back into his business.
But neither the success nor the money could negate the 246 nights he spent away from home, or the back-to-back 16-hour days, or the weekends spent speaking at business conferences.
“I totally ran out of steam,” Hazard says. “In the middle of the year, I had an emotional brain snap and ended a long-term relationship with the woman I was convinced would be the mother of my children. And some months after that, I experienced yet another relationship breakdown. Put that all into one body and one year, and it was total overload.”
Hazard hired a “soul coach” who helped him reassess what really mattered in his life.
“Sometimes you need someone to hold up the mirror,” he explains. “Hitting the wall does not come from ignorance, it comes from distraction. I needed to look introspectively at what I was addicted to—was it success, respect, love, power, freedom? For me, it was a bit of all of the above. I needed to work out what addictions were leading me to the right place and what addictions I needed to get out of my life to help me be me and not be addicted to the need for happiness. I had to simply open up to what truly made me happy.
“Can money buy you happiness? For sure—so long as you understand what truly makes you happy. Then your business works for you, and you don’t work for it.”
As a successful entrepreneur with more than 12 business in the US and Australia, Hazard is constantly approached with new opportunities. Now, though, he uses a simple test to gauge their worthiness and avoid burnout.
“The typical question my wife asks when considering another project is, ‘Is it worth a sandcastle?’” Hazard says. “In our house, that means, ‘Is it worth taking me off the beach building sandcastles with our kids to invest my time in that. Most times, the answer is ‘No, we’re good; we have enough; our family is well cared for; go back to the beach!’”
Slow and steady wins in business
Depending on who you ask, email, app, and text message alerts are devices of torture crafted by the devil himself. Each and every one is a reminder of something else that needs to be done, and it’s for this reason, perhaps, that Tyler Butler, Founder and Principal of 11Eleven Consulting, tends to ignore them.
“Because of the hyper-connectivity that today’s technology affords us, being comfortably behind is a great tool to avoid burnout,” Butler says. “There will always be emails in the inbox and tasks that are newly designated to you, but it is how you manage yourself and your time that will determine your burnout rate. I believe that we train people as to how we want to be treated—in business and in life—so, by being realistic about bandwidth, you are training your team as to what is a reasonable workload to manage.”
Butler speaks from personal experience, of course. After working in several corporate executive roles, she began experiences constant fatigue, poor sleep, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, anxiety, and feelings of resentment toward her work—all common signs of burnout. Ultimately, she left the corporate world and made a conscious decision to overhaul her entire lifestyle—including her average response time to those pesky alerts.
“I took time to rest by sleeping 7-8 hours a night, taking weekends completely off from all adult responsibilities, and, in general, allowing myself to have lazy time,” Butler says. “I took a break from worrying about things always being perfect and instead adopted the mindset that done is better than perfect. I made a conscious decision to prioritize family and friends above all else, blocking out my calendar to ensure that the most important people in my life were treated as such. And I took real time to travel. In fact, last year alone I visited eight countries, placing a real importance on my own personal happiness and making time for things that I love to do.”
That doesn’t mean that Butler has put a pause on her career aspirations. Her new company helps large companies develop corporate responsibility initiatives, and while it isn’t directly related to her newfound enlightenment, more often than not, she uses her experiences to positively impact her clients.
“My hope is that, when I set a healthy and balanced tone, the rest of the team will follow so that, in conjunction with my actual deliverables, I can also be a change agent in other positive ways for that organization.”